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A very common phenomenon in popular and village Hinduism, involving the apparent ‘possession’ of a (usually lower-caste) individual by another entity, the presence of which is made evident through various, often extreme, alterations in the possessed's behaviour. A distinction is made between invited, or voluntary, possession by a deity, and uninvited, or involuntary, possession by a malevolent spirit (bhūta). The former kind of possession is usually for a limited period of time, and takes place in strictly delimited cultural circumstances, such as a ritual, a performance, or a festival. Nevertheless, for the duration of the possession, onlookers regard the possessed as an embodiment of the deity. On the other hand, a malevolent possession, which is often seen as the cause of physical or mental illness in the possessed, or of some other kind of misfortune, requires exorcism by a diviner (often a local priest) or a deity (i.e. through its temple image). Since the exorcism involves the spirit accounting for its possession, according to anthropologists this is often an opportunity for the possessed to express otherwise socially suppressed grievances, or to articulate family divisions.

Subjects: Arts and Humanities.

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